23: Annalise Crowley

Annalise’s fingers have been known to cut people. Not intentionally, either. Her nails cut like paper; the damage remains unnoticed for a few moments before the blood appears, and then the wound stings inordinately for weeks. That’s putting a bad spin on it, though. Annalise Crowley has the most perfect, delicate fingernails of any woman alive. And she’s held that title for a long, long time.

Annalise never paints her fingernails, but she paints her face. Even at eighty-five years old, her morning routine monopolizes the hours between five and eight AM. She applies blush, eyeliner, eyeshadow, the works, in a manner so skillful that she appears to be a much younger woman who applies no makeup at all. Her hair is dyed platinum blonde and she wears reading glasses as a pendant around her neck. And once she has taken care of everything else, once her makeup is applied and her clothes selected and her breakfast prepared, Annalise sits down and buffs her fingernails

Her fingernails are her pride, and her joy, and her legacy. They are the reason anyone even knows her name. Nowadays Annalise is retired, officially. She doesn’t need to work, but she visits the hair salon she founded fifty-six years ago on an almost daily basis. Her visits are never unwelcome. With her magic fingers, Annalise can shape hair according to her every whim. Her fingers are more deft than the finest comb, and what her bony digits can’t accomplish, her fingernails invariably can. She manipulates hair like a scupltor manipulates clay; she ignores the individual strands and shapes the hair as a cohesive body. When she is finished her creations are almost architectural in scope. Old ladies totter out of her salon beneath flying buttresses of improbable hair. With just a spray bottle and her fingers Annalise can work wonders. With hair gel she is a public menace.

Her own hair is nothing to write home about. She keeps it close-cropped and dyed. The most she does to it is a quick finger-coming in the morning. She long ago cycled through every possible style. It’s not quite as interesting to her when she’s experimenting on herself. Michelangelo never walked around with his paintings strapped to his own chest, and Frank Lloyd Wright would be a madman if he ever agreed to live in a house that he designed. And so it is with Annalise. She’s teased a thousand scalps to greatness, but her own is finally off-limits.

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